A lot was made of the fact that Al Gore abandoned his former running mate, Joe Lieberman, when he decided to endorse Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Traditionally, political etiquette demands that, if a member of a national ticket in one presidential race is seeking the presidency four years later, the other member of the ticket should not turn around and urge voters to back someone else. This is especially true when, as was the case with Gore, the candidate you chose to join you on the ticket is now running in his own right.
But no one should fret for Joe Lieberman. Indeed, it is reasonable to argue that Al Gore is not president today because of Lieberman.
When Gore started making populist noises during and after the Democratic National Convention in 2000, it was Lieberman who told business reporters that the vice president didn't really mean it. Just as Gore was finally getting into the groove of criticizing corporations and their political pawns, Lieberman was undercutting him.
Lieberman's refusal to take up the anti-corporate message during the 2000 campaign helped maintain the sense that the Gore-Lieberman ticket lacked a focused message. No serious observer doubts that this led a substantial number of voters to abandon the ticket and vote for the Green Party's Ralph Nader.
Lieberman was equally useless after Gore won the popular vote and was thrown into a bitter fight for Florida's electoral votes. While Gore was hardly as aggressive as he needed to be, Lieberman was frequently off message. During the fight over counting ballots cast by people living overseas, Lieberman actually repeated Republican spin that turned out to be inaccurate and particularly damaging to the Democratic cause.
Lieberman remains dramatically off message. He backs the war in Iraq without reservation. He actually supports additional military adventures that could prove to be more costly and more damaging to America's credibility on the world stage. He supports corporate free trade initiatives that have done severe damage to America's manufacturing sector. And there are few Democrats who have spoken more enthusiastically about the Patriot Act over the past two years.
Al Gore did not let Joe Lieberman down when he endorsed Howard Dean. It is Lieberman who has let Democrats down, again and again. His loyalties lie with the corporate-sponsored Democratic Leadership Council, not with the grass-roots Democrats who remain furious about the dubious manner in which George W. Bush obtained the presidency and about the even more dubious manner in which he has exercised the powers of that office.
Howard Dean has his faults. But, in this campaign, he has worked hard to identify himself as a genuine alternative to Bush. Like a lot of Democrats, Al Gore has chosen to go for the Democrat who promises to stand up to Bush, rather than for the Democrat who too frequently stands with Bush.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times